While returning from Gibraltar in 1707, a squadron of British Royal Navy ships went badly astray off the coast of England, with disastrous results.
The weather had been overcast and stormy for days. On October 22, Admiral Cloudesley Shovell consulted with all his navigators to determine the fleet’s position. Most believed they were sailing on the latitude of Ushant near France. Shovell set a course for home, based on their advice.
They were wrong. Later that night, Shovell’s flagship, the Association, slammed into the rocks off the Scilly Isles and sank within minutes. Three other ships and over 1,000 men, including the admiral, were lost to the sea.
The tragedy, the worst maritime disaster in British history to that time, provoked demands for safer navigation. Parliament passed the Longitude Act of 1714, which created a panel of experts to oversee rewards for solving the problem of finding longitude at sea.